Literature 6-25-2007

What Light: This Week’s Poem: Andrea Matthews

"What Light: This Week's Poem" is sponsored by Magers and Quinn Booksellers, and brings you a poem every week by a Minnesota poet, selected by a panel of writers and publishers. Look for our book “What Light” at Magers and Quinn in Uptown or on line.

Andrea Matthews

Birds (after Alicia Ostriker’s “Horses”)

for Dr. Tammy Jenkins

You were born thirsty
for the wind, rushing

thin on your skin
like a river’s current.

“Free as a bird,” you whisper.
Would you shed shoes

to be an ounce of a thing?
Half skitter, half stillness –

See their softness, see
a pod of a body,

a bobbing beak seeking
insects in crevices,

hear their song – there is always a song
and a rustle of feathers, twitching indigo,

gold, cobalt blue and fern green, or
a black sheen seen mostly on beetles.

How they lift and flutter like
our mothers, ruffled

aprons blending blank
against the riverbank.

How you long to move smooth through
the geography of your weeks.

How you long to float like God,
look down upon your house –

the fence so thin you can squint it away,
your shoes a few sprinkles of salt.

How you long to bloom sudden
from a sycamore tree with

a perfect hundred others,
pepper the sky with cries and disperse, birds

are not of this earth, are not really of this earth.


I have always been around birds, and I feel a kind of passion for them that is singular. Watching them intently, I begin to feel just the edges of what it must be like to move wings. I wrote “Birds” in the second person because I was interested in getting the reader to “try on” this feeling and, hopefully, to experience something deep and intimate and new.

“Birds” is a sort of meditation: the couplets (two-lined stanzas) capture the pattern of breath and also the movement of wings in flight. Rhythm and repetition – built through rhyme, consonance, assonance and alliteration – echo the heartbeat. Together, breath and heartbeat move the poem forward. In its wake are flashes of color, motion and physical sensation that I hope will linger awhile with the reader.


Andrea Matthews is a graduate student in Hamline University’s MFA program, where she served on the 2006 editorial board of the University’s annual literary publication, Water~Stone Review. She is a graduate of Macalester College in St. Paul and a former student fellow in Victorian women’s studies at the Newberry Library in Chicago. Before coming to poetry and creative nonfiction, she studied screenwriting and adaptation at the now-defunct Film in the Cities, where she joined a screenwriters’ group that met weekly for nearly a decade. She twice represented screenwriters as a juror on the Minnesota State Arts Board, and was a juror for the international Nicholl Fellowships, awarded annually to emerging screenwriters by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She has written professionally for the past 17 years, primarily for Minnesota nonprofits, and currently lives and writes in Minneapolis.

This week’s featured judges: The Staff of Magers and Quinn!

The staff of Magers and Quinn has a wide and varied range of interests, but they do find occasion to agree on an assortment of particular authors—Michael Chabon, Bill Holm, Nicole Krauss, Edward Gorey, Kelly Link, Italo Calvino, Cormac Mccarthy and Jorge Luis Borges to name just a few. In the poetry section, you’ll find them recommending John Berryman, Randall Jarrell, T.S. Eliot and James Wright.

The staff doesn’t claim expertise in any one genre or subject matter. They do, however, know a little bit about a lot of stuff, which is the fortunate result of handling hundreds of different books each day. This knowledge makes them quite fond of Jeopardy and any other sort of trivia game. And, for our intents and purposes, excellent judges of quality poetry. For this series of the What Light contest, Magers and Quinn’s poetry buffs Shawn, Chris and Jay selected poems by K. Alma Peterson, Cary Waterman, Patricia Kirkpatrick and Andrea Matthews.